Maybe Chicago schools should declare bankruptcy and get it over with, says Moody’s

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Chicago is home to the U.S.’s third-largest public school system.
By

RachelKoning Beals

News editor

Moody’s has a revised shortlist of painful fixes for the public school system in Chicago.

One idea is to approve another increasingly politically unpopular property-tax levy to pay off debt, as the nation’s third-largest school district just issued another batch of high-interest bonds.

The second idea from the credit-ratings agency is to skip a pension payment to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, which would come just months after the district and its teacher‘s union hammered out an 11th-hour contract to avoid a second labor strike in a span of four years.

And last resort? Just declare bankruptcy already.

Moody’s, which rates Chicago Public Schools debt B3 negative, has issued two updated reports reviewing the finances of the school district, and the city itself, which are individual bodies with separate budgets and their own debt. Both are, of course, impacted by some of the same tax-base issues, economics and an overlap among decision makers, since the Board of Education isn’t elected but is handpicked by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

While unfunded pension liabilities will continue weighing on the city’s credit profile—it’s rated Ba1 negative—plans to significantly increase contributions with higher taxes is a favorable departure from prior funding practices, Moody’s outlined in its reports. However, the liquidity crisis at CPS is worsening amid a continued budget impasse at the state level and rising pension costs that will continue to grow annually.

Rival credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s in November lowered CPS’s rating from B+ to B.

“The rating action reflects our view of the district’s continued weak liquidity in its most recent cash flow forecast and reliance on cash flow borrowing, combined with the increased expenditures in the district’s new labor contract that exacerbate the district’s structural imbalance challenges,” analyst Jennifer Boyd said in a statement at the time.

Moody’s gives the city higher marks for improvement, but “while Chicago’s recent tax increases will provide revenue to significantly increase pension funding, the city’s unfunded pension liabilities exceed seven times its revenue and are projected to grow for at least 15 more years,” said Matt Butler, a vice president at Moody’s.

Read: Chicago police routinely use excessive force, and accountability is ‘broken,’ federal probe concludes

Political feuding between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the state legislature has left the nation’s fifth most populous state without a full-year operating budget for 18 months.

Moody’s has said CPS could consider more difficult options to address its finances should the state of Illinois, itself carrying the lowest credit ratings among states, be unable or unwilling to provide additional relief.

Moody’s is, after all, just charged with rating debt, not setting policy. Bankruptcy and skipping a pension payment would actually require changes to state law. CPS bankruptcy had been raised by Rauner and Illinois Republicans in the past, but it’s quickly been dismissed by Emanuel, a Democrat who served as President Obama’s first chief of staff after a stint in Congress, and pro-public-school lobbies.

The Moody’s reports come a few weeks after Emanuel sent a blistering letter to the ratings agency, from which the city hasn’t requested a credit rating in two years (the ratings are still issued to help potential bond purchasers price risk into the debt).

“It has become increasingly clear that Moody’s rating methodology and agenda are far from objective and independent,” Emanuel wrote in the December letter. “This is not to say that [Chicago] should be rated AAA, but … your current rating does not accurately reflect the city’s credit or our ability to pay debt service when due.”

What is becoming increasingly unclear is how much more taxation the populace will stand for without clearer signs of a turnaround. Within the last two years, there have been numerous tax increases by overlapping governments, including Chicago, CPS and Cook County, with new revenue earmarked for funding pensions instead of government services.

As for CPS, the budget for this school year relies on a one-time $215 million payment from the state to cover pension costs, a payout that hinges on Rauner and the Democrat-controlled legislature reaching a compromise. A new four-year contract with the Chicago Teachers Union will cost $9.45 billion, according to the district. The district’s recent $730 million bond offering is strictly for capital improvements and cannot be used for operating expenses.

And while Moody’s and other analysts have noted Chicago’s progress, they’ve also warned that its reliance on a slow crawl back to black ink leaves it vulnerable to the effects of another recession should one occur. Plus, as CPS’s credit deteriorates, it could have an impact on the city’s debt profile, Moody’s warned.

CPS advocates have raised red flags about both the city’s and the state’s push for expanded charter-school spending given the excess enrollment capacity in the city and its financial strains. Concern lies in part with a reliance on a property-tax funding formula that not every state uses and that hurts poorer schools more dramatically. These advocates, including Raise Your Hand for Illinois Education, also champion a closer look at what does function well in the diverse district, home to many high schools, in particular, that frequently rank among the best in the nation.

Read: The astronomical, hidden cost of sending kids to ‘good’ public schools

This large district’s issues play out as Congress will soon take up the nomination of billionaire philanthropist Betsy DeVos to be secretary of education. DeVos is an advocate of the quasi-public charter-school system that aims to cut the bureaucracy many associate with large public-school systems and their unions. She has championed vouchers, backing a failed ballot proposal in her home state of Michigan to amend the state’s constitution so that families could pay tuition at private and religiously affiliated schools with public money.

Along with 19 other Republican governors, Rauner, pilloried for mischaracterizing the frequency with which he has actually visited the Chicago Public Schools he criticizes and a separate controversy around the selective-enrollment CPS high school his daughter attended while apparently living outside the district, has backed DeVos.

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Homer City power plant files for bankruptcy, will reorganize

 

Anya Litvak

A massive coal-fired power plant in Homer City, Indiana County, is now in bankruptcy, its second reorganization effort in five years.

Homer City Generation LP filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today, expecting a swift process that will eliminate some $607 million in debt while continuing to operate the power plant without interruption.

The company has been anticipating this move for months. It toyed with selling the power plant, having put the asset up for sale a year ago. But its debt holders rejected several bids that came in and decided to reorganize instead. As part of the effort, its debt holders will become equity owners in a holding company formed to owned the asset.

Since early October, when Homer City missed a debt payment, it has been keeping its debt holders at bay as the parties negotiated the next step.

In the meantime, Homer City’s largest coal vendor, Cecil-based Consol Energy Inc., sued the power plant and its corporate parent, GE Capital, alleging they weren’t honoring a coal supply contract signed two years ago. Consol asked the court to prevent Homer City from selling the plant or otherwise restructuring until the lawsuit is resolved.

Earlier this week, however, Homer City and Consol settled the case paving the way for the power plant’s next steps. The settlement included a new two-year coal supply contract for Consol.

The power plant, which employs 245 people and has the capacity to power 2 million homes, was built in the 1960s and 1970s. Its three units have undergone significant upgrades, including a $750 million pollution control makeover funded by GE Capital, which rescued Homer City from bankruptcy in 2012.

Last year, however, GE announced it wanted to part ways with Homer City, which has suffered from competition with low-cost natural gas, low power prices, environmental compliance costs, and shifting market dynamics which transformed the facility from a constant source of baseload power to a plant that must dial up and down to follow the demand curve.

Those kinds of fluctuations take a toll on the power plant’s equipment, an engineer that reviewed the company’s situation on behalf of its debt holders stated. That means Homer City has to devote more of its budget to maintenance and capital projects.

As was the case before its previous bankruptcy in 2012, Homer City recently took steps to delay some of those projects to cut costs. But they are still necessary, the company noted, as are a number of other projects, including pollution upgrades that will limit emissions of nitrogen oxide.

In fact, the company’s five year plan “would require increased operating, maintenance and capital spending above what the company has historically spent and potentially above industry averages,” the bankruptcy documents state.

Homer City expects it will be able to handle those commitments and pay its regular vendors without interruption, the company wrote in a series of documents filed this week.

It has about $15 million in payments to vendors and suppliers coming due in the near future and, with $10 million in cash on hand, it expects to generate enough to pay its contractors as the invoices come in, Homer City’s documents state.

The company “intends to pay suppliers for all goods and services provided after the filing date under normal terms and conditions,” it assured in bankruptcy documents.

In analyzing how the company would fare if it chose to simply liquidate and sell its assets, Homer City concluded it might recover only between $42 and $60 million, mostly from its cash on hand, money owed to it by customers, and existing inventory of coal, oil, and limestone. Its power plant components and the vast expanse of land that hosts the plant would be worth very little, the analysis showed — less than 5 percent.

Homer City expects the bankruptcy process to make its way through the courts within a few months, the company stated. It hopes to exit bankruptcy with a new, $150 million loan.

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Quake swarm near the California-Mexico border gets scientists’ attention

The strongest earthquake in the sequence was magnitude 3.9, striking directly underneath the town of Brawley, about 170 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

The earthquakes struck in the southern end of the Brawley Seismic Zone, a seismically active region where tectonic plates are moving away from each other and the Earth’s crust is getting stretched out “and basically adding land,” said Caltech seismologist Egill Hauksson.

The Brawley Seismic Zone is particularly important to watch because it is the region that connects the San Andreas and Imperial faults, both of which can produce damaging earthquakes. The seismic zone extends for about 30 miles from the city of Brawley, across the Salton Sea’s southern half, and ends near Bombay Beach.

Hauksson was closely monitoring the swarm that began Saturday, as there was a chance that an earthquake of magnitude 5 or larger could be triggered.

“There’s always reason to be concerned for a bigger earthquake,” Hauksson said. But by Sunday night, the possibility of the swarm triggering a larger event had largely receded.

The southern Brawley Seismic Zone is close in proximity to the Imperial fault. The Imperial fault has caused two major earthquakes in recent decades.

In 1979, a magnitude-6.5 earthquake sent violent shaking into El Centro, injuring 91 and causing so much damage to the concrete Imperial County Services Building that it had to be demolished.

There was major damage to the irrigation system in the Imperial Valley, a desert region that is a prolific producer of salad vegetables during the winter. Levees lining the All-American Canal, which funnels water from the Colorado River, collapsed along an eight-mile stretch.

The magnitude-7.1 earthquake that hit El Centro in 1940 claimed nine lives and swayed buildings as far away as Los Angeles. Irrigation systems were damaged, and railroad tracks were left warped where they crossed the fault.

Earthquake swarms that occur in the other end of the Brawley Seismic Zone — to the north — could trigger a major event on the San Andreas fault, one of California’s most dangerous, that could send catastrophic shaking into Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties.

In late September, one such swarm began in the northern Brawley Seismic Zone, with three measuring above magnitude 4. That event led the U.S. Geological Survey to warn that chances of a magnitude 7 or greater earthquake on the San Andreas fault had risen as a result of the swarm.

Another swarm of small earthquakes, topping out at magnitude 3.5, struck the town of Niland near the eastern shore of the Salton Sea on Halloween.

The last major earthquake to hit Brawley was in 2012, registering at magnitude 5.4.

Brawley Mayor Sam Couchman said the earthquakes have placed the city of 26,000 on edge since Saturday afternoon. The combination of the earthquakes and New Year’s pyrotechnics spooked some of the town’s dogs, who went missing, he said.

“We’re just kind of listening to it, and when you can hear it coming, it’ll rattle things,” Couchman said. “Last night, we had the rain, the earthquakes, and the fireworks.

“All we needed were frogs and locusts.”

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Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ becomes German bestseller

"Mein Kampf" outlines Adolf Hitler's ideology that formed the basis for Nazism

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“Mein Kampf” outlines Adolf Hitler’s ideology that formed the basis for Nazism (AFP Photo/TOBIAS SCHWARZ)

Berlin (AFP) – The first reprint of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” in Germany since World War II has proved a surprise bestseller, heading for its sixth print run, its publisher said Tuesday.

The Institute of Contemporary History of Munich (IfZ) said around 85,000 copies of the new annotated version of the Nazi leader’s anti-Semitic manifesto had flown off the shelves since its release last January.

However, the respected institute said that far from promoting far-right ideology, the publication had enriched a debate on the renewed rise of “authoritarian political views” in contemporary Western society.

It had initially planned to print only 4,000 copies but boosted production immediately based on intense demand. The sixth print run will hit bookstores in late January.

The two-volume work had figured on the non-fiction bestseller list in weekly magazine Der Spiegel over much of the last year, and even topped the list for two weeks in April.

The institute also organised a successful series of presentations and debates around “Mein Kampf” across Germany and in other European cities, which it said allowed it to measure the impact of the new edition.

“It turned out that the fear the publication would promote Hitler’s ideology or even make it socially acceptable and give neo-Nazis a new propaganda platform was totally unfounded,” IfZ director Andreas Wirsching said in a statement.

“To the contrary, the debate about Hitler’s worldview and his approach to propaganda offered a chance to look at the causes and consequences of totalitarian ideologies, at a time in which authoritarian political views and rightwing slogans are gaining ground.”

– ‘Not reactionaries or radicals’ –

The institute said the data collected about buyers by regional bookstores showed that they tended to be “customers interested in politics and history as well as educators” and not “reactionaries or rightwing radicals”.

Nevertheless, the IfZ said it would maintain a restrictive policy on international rights. For now, only English and French editions are planned despite strong interest from many countries.

The institute released the annotated version of “Mein Kampf” last January, just days after the copyright of the manifesto expired.

Bavaria was handed the rights to the book in 1945 when the Allies gave it control of the main Nazi publishing house following Hitler’s defeat.

For 70 years, it refused to allow the inflammatory tract to be republished out of respect for victims of the Nazis and to prevent incitement of hatred.

But “Mein Kampf” — which means “My Struggle” — fell into the public domain on January 1 and the institute said it feared a version without critical commentary could hit the market.

Partly autobiographical, “Mein Kampf” outlines Hitler’s ideology that formed the basis for Nazism. He wrote it in 1924 while he was imprisoned in Bavaria for treason after his failed Beer Hall Putsch.

The book set out two ideas that he put into practice as Germany’s leader going into World War II: annexing neighbouring countries to gain “Lebensraum”, or “living space”, for Germans, and his hatred of Jews, which led to the Holocaust.

Some 12.4 million copies were published in Germany and from 1936, the Nazi state gave a copy to all newlyweds as a wedding gift.

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Chillies could help beat cancer as research finds capsaicin destroys diseased cells

Red Chillies
Red chillies could be better for you than you might think (Photo: Getty)

Chillies could help fight breast cancer after scientists revealed the spicy ingredient causes diseased cells to self destruct.

Capsaicin, the active component that gives chillies their trademark kick, can switch on specialised channels surrounding cancer cells causing them to die.

Other cancers including colon, bone and pancreatic could also be killed off by the compound.

However, capsaicin isn’t effective if it’s eaten, inhaled or injected, and researchers think it will only be effective as a pill attached to another drug that targets cancer cells.

Scientists from Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany, treated human samples of breast cancer cells with the hot ingredient to find out more about its ability to destroy them.

Doctor assisting a female patient for mammogram
Scientists say breast, colon, bone and pancreatic cancer cells could be caused to self destruct by the spicy ingredient (file photo) (Photo: Getty)

Dr Lea Weber, writing in the journal Breast Cancer – Targets and Therapy, said: “Capsaicin is capable of inducing apoptosis (cell death) and inhibiting cancer cell growth in many different types of cancer, for example, osteosarcoma, colon, and pancreatic cancer cells, while normal cells remained unharmed.”

When capsaicin reaches a cancer cell, the spicy ingredient attaches itself to the edge of the cell known as the cell membrane and switches on a cell receptor called TRPV1.

The receptor TRPV1 is a channel that controls what substances such as calcium and sodium go in and out of the cancer cell.

When TRPV1 is switched on by capsaicin, the cancer cell is sent into overdrive and starts to self-destruct.

As more and more cancer cells die, the tumour is stopped from growing larger.

Dr Weber said: “In this study, we aimed to identify the TRP channels in different breast cancer subtypes and to investigate the effect of TRPV1 ligand [capsaicin] on breast cancer progression.

“To our knowledge, no studies have yet conducted a large-scale comparative study of the TRP channels expression profiles in breast cancer cell lines.

“In our experiments, a significant reduction in cell proliferation after capsaicin stimulation was observed.

“This finding was in accordance with the results of other scientists, who demonstrated a significant decrease in the cell growth rate of MCF-7 breast cancer cells upon capsaicin stimulation.”
This study was carried out by scientists from the Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany, the hospital Herz-Jesu-Krankenhaus Dernbach, Germany, and the Centre of Genomics in Cologne, Germany.

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Obama Releases 220 Illegal Alien Kids PER DAY As Border Crisis Escalates

During the month of November alone, the Obama administration sent enough border-crossing illegal alien children to live in American communities to fill up 12 Washington, D.C. middle schools.

In fact, strung out over the entire 30-day period, the Obama administration processed and turned loose an astonishing 6,623 illegal alien kids who’d recently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border unlawfully, averaging more than 220 kids per day. The administration released about 600 more kids in November than they did during the month of October, when 6,051 children were sent to live with sponsors in the U.S. pending their day in immigration court. FY2016 data reveals the vast majority of these children are teens claiming to be between 15 and 17 years of age.

The incoming flood of illegal aliens, including unaccompanied minors, ramped up during the final few months of FY2016 and into the first days of the new fiscal year, and has yet to slow down. While border agents have apprehended another 14,128 unaccompanied kids at the Mexican border between October and November, the administration’s Office of Refugee Resettlement turned loose 12,674 UACs in that same time frame.

With 10 months still to go until the end of the fiscal year, the administration has already released roughly 25 percent of the total number of unaccompanied kids set free to live in the United States last year, when a total of 52,147 children were sent to live with sponsors. If this pace continues, the number of kids caught and released into the U.S. will easily outpace any recent year including FY2014, when a new wave of juvenile border crossings caught the nation’s attention and overwhelmed border resources.

Data from the federal immigration court system shows that more than a third of these children won’t show up for their court date, including about 90 percent of those children who are ordered removed from the country. Additionally, recently released information from the Department of Health and Human Services shows the administration only conducts home studies for about six percent of the illegal alien children released, failing to follow up on the vast majority who are left to disappear into communities across the country.

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Toxic gas that killed 4 children derived from ‘restricted-use’ pesticide

AMARILLO — We’ve learned lack of education on how to use the chemical compound led to the deaths of four Amarillo children.

Aluminum Phosphide is often used as a fumigant to get rid of pests like gophers and mice. It is highly toxic to not only those animals, but humans as well.

When Aluminum Phosphide is mixed with water or any moisture, it produces a toxic Phosphine gas, which is what took the lives of these occupants. One resident of the east Amarillo home was trying to kill mice and placed the pesticide underneath their home, then applied water.

“They were already getting an odor and they were trying to suppress the vapors. He didn’t know enough about the chemical,” said Amarillo Fire Department Lieutenant Josh Whitney. “The chemical is only sold to people that have a license to apply it, and he got this black market. He applied it yesterday, and then so over the night is whenever all the toxic gasses were leeching to inside the house ”

Aluminum Phosphide is so strong it is commonly referred to as a “restricted use” pesticide. Whitney tells us when inhaled, it attacks the respiratory system. And if someone is lucky enough to survive inhalation, they will likely experience long term health issues.

“IDLH is 50 parts per million, which 50 parts per million means it only takes 50 drops in a room full of a million to be able to become toxic and kill you. So this is extremely, extremely toxic,” said Whitney.

WFAA’s sister station KFDA drove around to try and find pesticides even close to these levels and…no luck. Many mice and gopher killers are now made with natural ingredients.

Whitney has some words of advice for anyone considering killing any pests.

“This is known, this happens across the United States and it’s when people get a hold of stuff they don’t know how to use and they don’t do enough research. If you’re going to apply chemicals to your house, have somebody that’s certified put these chemicals down and don’t put your family in harms way.”

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In Istanbul nightclub, gunman picked off the wounded

(Repeats story first issued on Jan 2)

* Nightclub was a gathering point for nationalities

* Gunman shot the wounded as they lay on the ground

* Some victims were shot at point blank range

By Yara Abi Nader and Humeyra Pamuk

ISTANBUL, Jan 2 (Reuters) – Shot in the arm and slumped behind a table, Francois al-Asmar played dead as the gunman walked through the exclusive Istanbul nightclub shooting the wounded as they lay on the ground.

Like most of the 39 people killed at a New Year’s party in Reina, a hang-out for the Turkish jet set and moneyed foreigners, the Lebanese radio and TV graduate was a visitor to Istanbul, enjoying a city reputed in the Middle East for its diversity and tolerance.

“He shot one shot, so we thought – I thought – it was some angry or drunk man … But a few seconds later, we heard a machine gun,” Asmar told Reuters from his hospital bed.

“I was hiding behind the table, sitting on the floor, but my shoulder must have been exposed. He was shooting us on the floor … I acted dead so he didn’t keep shooting me,” he said.

The lone gunman, still at large, shot dead a police officer and a civilian at the door before walking in and opening fire at random. Witnesses said he shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest). Islamic State claimed responsibility.

“As soon as he entered the club he started firing and he didn’t stop. He fired non-stop for 20 minutes at least,” said Younis Turk, a French citizen of Turkish origin.

“We thought that there were several of them because it just didn’t stop. And there was some kind of bombing as well, he threw some explosives,” he said.

The club was a gathering point for many nationalities that night. Victims included an Indian Bollywood film producer, a Turkish waiter, a Lebanese fitness trainer and a Jordanian bar owner.

According to a forensics report quoted by the Milliyet newspaper, some of the victims were shot at very close distance or even at point-blank range.

Mehmet Yilan, 36, a barman at Reina for 12 years, said the attacker deliberately targeted the most crowded areas of the club, which sits on the shore of the Bosphorus in Ortakoy, an Istanbul neighbourhood packed with cafes and restaurants.

“He stormed in and immediately headed for the people to the left, which is always more crowded … I wonder if he came here before because he seemed to know where to go,” Yilan said, describing how his manager yelled at people to run.

“He was shooting randomly but aiming for their upper bodies. He didn’t want to just injure them.”

Yilan escaped into a back room with five customers and two other bar staff, then went downstairs to a terraced area on the edge of the water. Despite the icy, snowy weather, some people jumped into the water to escape the gunfire.

“He kept shooting all throughout. I called for our boat which transfers our customers, but he kept firing towards the sea too. The boat couldn’t approach,” Yilan said.

He spoke to Reuters at the funeral of his colleague, Fatih Cakmak, a security guard who worked at the club and had survived a suicide bombing targeting police at a football stadium a few kilometres away just three weeks earlier.

“ISTANBUL’S BEST NIGHT CLUB”

Lito German, 47, a Filipino living in Saudi Arabia who works in marketing, was in Istanbul for the first time with his wife and daughter and was approaching the club as the attack began.

“We were about 100 metres away and started seeing people fleeing towards us. Most were very well dressed, though many were barefoot and looking shaken and scared,” he said.

“We were actually meant to go to another club, but we didn’t want to be in a very big place due to security issues, and we found Reina by googling Istanbul’s best night club. We thought the most expensive club would have better security.”

Armoured police vehicles rushed to the scene as more and more people came running out, he said.

Among the dead were Abis Rizvi, 49, a Bollywood producer who was in the midst of making his second film, and Khushi Shah, a fashion designer in her 20s, both from Mumbai. The Indian government said it was making arrangements to help the families as they come to Turkey to collect the bodies.

Lebanon sent a plane to carry back the remains of three of its citizens who were among the dead.

Elias Wardini, 26, a personal trainer, had posted a picture on Instagram a few hours before the attack, posing in the Istanbul snow with another Lebanese victim in her twenties, Rita Shami.

The club’s owner, Mehmet Kocarslan, said police had taken extraordinary security measures in the run-up to the New Year in neighbourhoods on the Bosphorus shore around Ortakoy.

The U.S. embassy had warned of potential attacks on areas frequented by foreigners, but Kocarslan said there had been no specific threat against his club in particular and that many of the warnings had been country-wide.

“I really don’t know how this demon, I can’t even call him a terrorist, was able to reach here despite all this intelligence and extraordinary security measures,” he said.

The incident bore echoes of an attack by militant Islamists on Paris’s Bataclan music hall in November 2015 that, along with assaults on bars and restaurants, killed 130 people.

“When they’re determined, they’re determined, and there’s nothing to do,” said Turk, who was visiting from France.

“That doesn’t mean that I won’t be coming anymore. For me Turkey, Istanbul, is one of the nicest cities in the world and I will keep on coming again and again.” (Additional reporting by Miguel Pereira and Yesim Dikmen in Istanbul, Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai, Lisa Barrington in Beirut; editing by Ralph Boulton; Writing by Nick Tattersall)

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Google Fixes Algorithm to Remove Holocaust-Denying Results and Other ‘Non-Authoritative Information’

Obviously something needs to replace Google.

If it’s no longer there then it never happened, or, “It happened and no one questions whether or not it did.”
You can readily see why I hate their stinking guts. They’re erasers.

Google Fixes Algorithm to Remove Holocaust-Denying Results and Other ‘Non-Authoritative Information’

Shoes taken from Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz via Getty | Screenshots via Google

After it was widely reported that the first Google search result for “Did the Holocaust happen?” was from Stormfront, a white supremacist website, Google decided to alter its algorithm to remove Holocaust denial sites all together.

When the news first broke, Google said it would not remove the article—titled “Top 10 reasons why the holocaust didn’t happen”—from its results because the company does “not remove content from [its] search results, except in very limited cases such as illegal content, malware and violations of our webmaster guidelines.”

But Google had a change of heart. A spokesperson for the company told Digital Trends, “Judging which pages on the web best answer a query is a challenging problem and we don’t always get it right.”

The spokesperson also emphasized that the company strives “to give users a breadth of diverse content from variety of sources and…[is] committed to the principle of a free and open web.”

Google made sure to emphasize it is still sorting its results automatically, and that the company had simply “made improvements” to its algorithm when it comes to “non-authoritative information.” The spokesperson said that this “will help surface more high quality, credible content on the web.”

This is a major shift for the company. In 2008, Google founder Sergey Brin said in an interview with Israeli politician Yair Lapid:

An important part of our values as a company is that we don’t edit the search results. What our algorithms produce, whether we like it or not, are the search results. I think people want to know we have unbiased search results.

We’ve reached out to Google to ask more about the company’s decision to alter its algorithm, and what that means for the future of fake news. Maybe Google could lend some of its Silicon Valley peers a helping hand with all that.

Now when you search “did the Holocaust happen?” Stormfront appears to have disappeared entirely.

Results for “Did the Holocaust happen?” on 12/26/2016

The company has also corrected the results to “are Jews evil?”—when you search a variety of suggestively hateful questions, it mostly directs to news about the search results scandal. When you search “are Muslims evil?” there isn’t anything Islamophobic until the fourth result. Baby steps.

Results for “are Jews evil?” and “are Muslims evil?” on 12/26/2016

However, when you google “are black people inferior?” the first result is still racist.

Results for “are black people inferior?” on 12/26/2016

“We’ll continue to change our algorithms over time in order to tackle these challenges,” the Google spokesperson said.

[Digital Trends]

Eve Peyser is the night editor at Gizmodo.

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South Africa’s Whites

BBC discovers White Genocide in South Africa

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